Everett’s Sean Richards (right) and Spokane’s Egor Arbuzov skate after the puck during a Nov. 18 game at Angel of the Winds Arena. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett’s Sean Richards (right) and Spokane’s Egor Arbuzov skate after the puck during a Nov. 18 game at Angel of the Winds Arena. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Former Silvertips player thriving after trade to Thunderbirds

Sean Richards is eager to face his former team for the first time.

KENT — When Sean Richards first joined the Seattle Thunderbirds in Brandon, Manitoba, for their Eastern Conference road swing, he first linked up with Thunderbirds center Matthew Wedman, who Richards recognized from their time growing up near Edmonton.

Wedman introduced Richards to his new teammates. As handshakes and pleasantries were exchanged, an awkward malaise pervaded the room until laughter broke the silence.

No one could believe Richards was actually a member of the Thunderbirds.

“It was a ‘Oh my god, how is this real?’ type of thing,’ ” Richards said.

The initial uncomfortableness stemmed from a vexatious relationship between Richards and the Thunderbirds. The overage forward, who was eventually traded to Seattle in a blockbuster deal that sent Zack Andrusiak to the Everett Silvertips, earned two suspensions during the 2018-2019 season for hits against Seattle players while playing for Everett. Both hits resulted in injuries.

But since joining the Thunderbirds, Richards has assimilated almost seamlessly and is playing some of the best hockey of his career, posting 11 points in 11 games since being traded.

“It was a little sad getting traded from Everett, not getting to see my friends and stuff like that,” said Richards, who will play his former team for the first time since being traded on Friday when Everett travels to the ShoWare Center for a 7:35 p.m. tilt.

“But I was a little excited, too. (It was) a fresh start in Seattle, and it’s been turning out pretty good.”

Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said Richards was almost an instant fit in the Thunderbirds’ dressing room and lineup.

“I think it’s one of those situations where you hate playing against a guy but you love to have (him) on your team,” O’Dette said. “After all the guys got to know each other and the ice is broken, he’s fit in well and everyone welcomed him with open arms.

“He fits into our identity with his style of play. The fact that he had success right off the bat … that obviously makes the transition easier when he’s having success and he’s playing well for us.”

The sight of Richards in a Thunderbirds jersey will be peculiar to Everett’s coaches and players.

“If you would have asked me of all the teams, if he wasn’t an Everett Silvertip until the end, I probably wouldn’t have picked (Seattle) as the first team,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said. “But again, it’s great to see him doing well. That’s what it’s about, and his team is doing really well.”

Since Richards’ first game with the Thunderbirds on Jan. 8 at Saskatoon, Seattle has played some of its best hockey of the season, going 7-2-2 over its last 11 games.

The invigorated Thunderbirds are a product of necessary roster tweaks, according to O’Dette.

“I think it’s just a shuffle of the chemistry,” O’Dette said. “I think our chemistry was a bit off with our dynamic in the locker room. (There is) new positive energy with our guys that have come in, and I think our depth is a little bit better from after the trade deadline. We’re a better team.”

While Friday’s game in Kent will be his first against his former teammates, Saturday’s game may be even more emotional for Richards as the Thunderbirds will travel to Everett for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop at Angel of the Winds Arena.

Will his reception be a smattering of boos or resounding applause?

“I don’t really know,” Richards said with a chuckle. “I think I had a pretty good relationship with the fans there, so hopefully (there are) no boos, but I don’t really know.”

Richards said he keeps in close contact with his teammates, who will direct friendly barbs at him now that he’s playing for their archrival.

“We’ll play (video) games once in awhile and just kind of bug him about (the fact that) he forgot about us and how he’s got new friends over there,” said Silvertips forward Connor Dewar. “It’s exciting for him and that he made the best out of the situation that he could. It’s cool to see him have success.”

“I’ll never forget about those (Everett) guys,” Richards said. “Those are some of my best friends.”

Story time

Richards’ departure from Everett was overshadowed by the Silvertips’ acquisition of Andrusiak, a prolific goal scorer. But Richards was a well-liked figure and a galvanizing presence in the Silvertips’ locker room.

Here are some of the favorite memories and stories of Richards from his coaches and teammates during his time in Everett:

Forward Connor Dewar: “Just the inside jokes we had that made him and I laugh a lot. … The most appropriate one is that every morning I’d be at the rink waiting for him to walk in with a ridiculous outfit on. Like, four out of the seven days a week he’d have the same outfit on. … He’d wear a beige sweater with the baggiest gray sweatpants every day.”

Head coach Dennis Williams: “(It was) probably his cackle at the back of the bus. You could always hear him laughing the loudest out of everybody. Every prank or joke, he was probably 99 percent involved in it. He’s just a salt-of-the-earth player and person. He’s a great guy.”

Defenseman Jake Christiansen: “I think it’s when he asked the boys if everyone paid him 20 bucks, he’d shave his head. He ended up doing that and he looked like a tennis ball for a little bit. That was pretty funny because it was an ongoing thing for a little bit. … Everyone got one buzz on his head, one streak through his hair. It was pretty funny.”

Defenseman Ian Walker: “Back at my old billets’ house, we called it the ‘The Mad House’ — it was on Madison Street, we used to go over there and play “Mario Kart” with Sean and he’d be eating all the pretzels in the house and drinking all the Propels that he couls. He was a great guy and a great teammate, and it will be fun to play against him … (There’s) plenty of wrestling memories in that basement, too.”

Forward Bryce Kindopp: “He was definitely one of my best buddies for sure. He would always be at my house eating our snacks, that type of thing. He was a great dude. … He would come over and hang out often, and we had a pretty good snack selection at our house, so he’d take advantage.”

Defenseman Wyatte Wylie: “There’s too many to think of. We were really good friends, and ever since I got here he fit right in and became our brother. I’m really excited to see him. … We have a ton of (memories), from wrestling in hotel rooms to teaming up on guys on the bus, wrestling around. It’s all fun.”

Defenseman Gianni Fairbrother: “I don’t know if I have a favorite (memory), but he’s just a guy that was always keeping the mood light and keeping the boys in good spirits.”

Defenseman Sahvan Khaira: “Not so much stories, but I have nothing but good things to say about him. He plays that hard-nosed, gritty style of hockey, and he has a skillful upside, too. From my time being his teammate, I have nothing but good things (to say about him). He’s always been a class act, just a great guy. (I have) no complaints whatsoever. He welcomed me to the team when I was new. (He’s) just a great guy.”

Josh Horton covers the Everett Silvertips and AquaSox for The Everett Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter (@joshhortonEDH) or reach out to him over email (jhorton@heraldnet.com).

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